A few years ago, my friend Brendan Loy and I engaged in a brief debate about the existence of evil. He subscribed to it, calling it forth on some recent tragedy. I, on the other hand, as a therapist who has worked with sexual offenders, literal murderers, and other assorted criminals resisted the label, resisted the idea of literal evil being a true part of the human experience.
Boy, this year sure has tested my thoughts and beliefs on this matter.
The latest offender in my growing file of “The Evil that Humans Do in 2017” is the so-called a Nashville Statement, a letter put out by a loose alliance of evangelical pastors and thinkers either affirming their commitment to normalcy or bigotry depending on who you speak to. Take one guess what side of the matter I fall on.
Before I go on, I feel the need to offer my credentials as it was and confess my discomfort with discussing faith and religion. As a member of the largest and most powerful religious group in the United States—Christians—I am often loathe to discuss my faith unless directly asked. My friends who are Jewish or Hindu or Muslim or atheist or agnostic, frankly, are inundated with Christianity on a regular enough basis simply existing in the world that I feel little need to call attention to the fact that, hey, I’m Christian too! It’s why, for instance, my ashes got wiped off my forehead a minute after Ash Wednesday ends. My faith is deep and personal but I see no percentage in calling attention to it.
[This is not to say I have issue with those of you who might wear your ashes all day. What is right for me isn’t necessarily right for you. Again, faith is personal.]
But then nonsense like the Nashville Statement happens and keeping quiet seems even less helpful. So, here we go.
If you speak to my mom since I was baptized Catholic, I am a Catholic for life. I disagree, but I feel like I should least acknowledge her position in advance.
I describe myself as an Episcopalian attending an Open and Affirming, Just Peace United Church of Christ, Congregationalist church. For those unaware, “open and affirming” refers to the church being not just allowing but actively seeking members of any and all race, sex, ethnicity, sexual, and as of three or so years ago, gender identity and gender expression. “Just peace” is a statement on the church’s commitment to not just peace in the traditional sense of no war but also equal economic and legal treatment for all people.
None of my three faith identifiers are evangelical by nature. Catholicism—excepting the mutant strain that seemed to be embraced by conservative politicians like Newt Gingrich—is the largest single sect of Christianity in the world and the oldest. As a result, the Catholic Church’s attitude towards evangelizing is, roughly, “hey, you want to join up, we’ll have you, but please do not expect us to reach out to you. We’re top dog here.” Episcopalians are descendant from the Anglican Church of England and you know how the English are. Lastly, UCC-ers are the kind of church-goers who have a table at the local LGBTQ event with brochures and would love to tell you all about our place of worship but we will wait until you swing by.
As such, I am not the kind of Christian that tends to get headlines or, increasingly, is most often associated with the term Christianity. I am not evangelical, I am not born-again. I believe in God, I believe in Christ’s divinity, but mostly I believe in the power of faith to do good in the world.
All of which brings us back to the Nashville Statement, a document that has very little interest in doing good in the world.
I think there must be no greater sin on this Earth than looking at your neighbors—in the literal sense and the communal “we are all neighbors” sense—and denying their fundamental humanity, their right to exist. That is, in essence, what the Statement does. It is not an affirmation of “traditional” morals—traditional being an odd term here as the modern evangelical movement is relatively young—it is an affirmation of the desires of these people to hate others, to ostracize others, to deny others’ fundamental humanity without having to analyze their reactions to a bi man, a transgender woman who has chosen not to transition, a transgender man who has chosen to, a lesbian couple adopting their first child and so on. It is a permission slip to hate dressed up as religious conviction.
It is not “Christian values.” They can claim it is until they are blue in the face but read every gospel cover 3, 4, 5 times. Ready every chapter of the New Testament highlighter in hand and find me a passage where Jesus advocates for us to hurt the oppressed amongst us, where He demands we make the lives of those not in power harder, where He assures us, “hey it’s fine to tell people who are different than you that they are bad and wicked and that who they love or who they see themselves as makes them fundamentally less than you.” You will not find it because it is not there. Because it is not Christian.
I know they have Leviticus at the ready to answer this so let’s start with this: for Christians, they sure do seem to talk a lot about the part of the book that is not Christ’s words. Second, the faith for whom the Old Testament is the primary source material, Judaism, has long asserted that God, essentially, changed over time, became more loving and less violent, cruel, and capricious. If the people whose faith is based on that book believe that, how can you not when we have a whole other section that documents that very evolution via His gift to the world of His son, of Himself given flesh and made man? Lastly, Leviticus is largely held by scholars to be more about casting aspersions on the Romans so, you know, consider human failings in delivering God’s message to thousands of years later.
I want to make this as clear as possible, is this: those behind the Nashville Statement do not speak for all Christians in America. I would be surprised if they even speak for most. If you are gay, lesbian, bi, transgender, asexual, questioning, confused, gender queer—you have a right to exist. You have a right to be who you are and there is no sin in that. Simply put, they are wrong. They are not evil, but with God as my witness (if you can forgive that sort of pun), I promise you that Statement is. In their fear of what they do not know or do not understand they have forgotten to how to be Christians. Regardless of your faith or lack thereof, regardless of your gender, gender expression, sexuality, or physical sex, you have a place at the table. They do not get to tell you otherwise.